Rides for rescues: 'Mutt Movers' transport dogs hundreds of miles to happy homes

When Martha Chandler heard about 9-year-old Sarge, a dog in need of transportation to a new home after he was found sitting loyally by the side of his deceased owner, she was quick to lend a hand. It didn't matter that the boxer-St. Bernard mix was in Washington, D.C., and his new home with the man's daughter was more than 1,000 miles away in Kansas.

While Chandler's nonprofit in Akron, Ohio, Martha’s Mutt Movers, usually arranges long-distance carpools for dogs rescued from high-kill shelters, she was more than willing to make an exception for Sarge.

“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking when they lose someone close to them,” Chandler, 49, told TODAY.com. “He was my favorite transport; he got to go home with his sister. She was so happy to have him out there in honor of her dad.”

Martha's Mutt Movers functions with the help of volunteers spread out across the nation, who are willing to pick up a dog or two (or three or four) from a specified location, drive for about an hour, and drop them off with another driver, a process that is repeated until the pup reaches its final destination: a safe, happy home. Almost all the dogs are taken from high-kill shelters, and many are just days away from being put down.

Chandler is not alone in her efforts. Mutt Movers is part of a flourishing network of nonprofits and informal groups that have popped up to transport rescued animals to homes that are sometimes hundreds of miles away. This passionate group of animal lovers, which includes many truck drivers and pilots, is driven by the desire to help the hundreds of creatures languishing in high-kill shelters across the country.

Good buddies: Truckers transport rescued animals to safety

"Even if it’s one dog, that is one dog that’s given a new life, that didn’t have a chance before, that would've been dead two days ago if they weren't on this transport," Chandler told TODAY's Jill Rappaport. 

Chandler got her start transporting six tiny pit bull puppies, but soon found she wanted to make more of an impact during the few days a week she wasn't working as an accountant for the city of Akron. She decided to take the nonprofit route and assists drivers with fuel money for their efforts. 

Woof! Meow! Oink! Pilot rescues 1,000th animal

Though Chandler doesn't keep precise records of the number of dogs her organization has transported, she estimates they've moved about 1,000 dogs (around 10 every weekend) in the past two years. She was told that her transportation efforts for dogs rescued by German Shorthaired Pointers Rescue New England saved that group $3,000 in one year, allowing volunteers to dedicate more funds to other dogs.

“People don’t realize what they’re doing just by volunteering a leg of the trip on the weekend,” she said.

Author chronicles cross-country RV 'dogtrip' with 25 rescue pooches

Chandler calls these volunteer drivers the “backbone” of her organization since “it can’t be done” without them. Though she has thousands of volunteer contacts, she hopes to recruit more since the most dedicated volunteers often have to shoulder most of the work.

“One woman took a leg of the trip even though her daughter was graduating from high school because no one else could fill it,” Chandler said. “She couldn’t see the transport fail.”

'No dog should die alone': Photographer promotes senior pet adoption

While Chandler says that working in the dog rescue world can be emotionally taxing given “all the horror stories” out there, she’s constantly uplifted by the generous people who make up the network.

“Everybody just helps everybody,” she said. “It’s an amazing world.”

Learn more about the work of Martha's Mutt Movers here.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Stella the dog

    There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    A Los Angeles animal photographer is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. See images from her "My Old Dog" project here.

  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Fiona -

    Los Angeles animal photographer Lori Fusaro is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. Alarmed by how many senior dogs languish in shelters because no one wants them, Fusaro launched a photography project to show how much older dogs have to offer. Here are photos from the project, which led to a book called "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts":

    “Fiona was a 15-year-old stray at the West Valley Animal Shelter (in Los Angeles),” Fusaro said. “She couldn't walk and she had to be carted around in a red wagon." A volunteer with a local animal rescue group took her home thinking she would not last long, but the dog blossomed. Fiona went on to "dance around the house for treats" and enjoy scratches behind the ears, Fusaro said.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Flopsy and Sebastian -

    These closely bonded dogs lived in a backyard with no attention until they were rescued in the summer of 2012. "They have arthritis, but they are not old dogs who like to sleep all day," Fusaro said. "They play, chase cats and squirrels as best as they can, and love their walks and park time.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Healey -

    “Healey was adopted as a senior,” Fusaro said. “He had the odds stacked against him: He was old, a pit bull and blind. His mama couldn't bear the thought of him dying in the shelter and so she adopted him. He loves to go on walks and sniffs every inch of grass. He loves his doggy brothers and sisters and especially his human daddy. They are inseparable.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Lady -

    “Lady was found at the shelter as a senior,” Fusaro said. “She was sweet as pie and her foster mama decided on the spot to bring her home. She loves her human friends and dog friends too. Her favorite pastime is rolling in the grass and belly rubs.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Rosie -

    “Rosie is an 11-year-old English bulldog,” Fusaro said. “Tennis balls are her favorite toy to play with and tease you with. She will dare you to take it from her. She also likes to take the pillows off the bed or clothes that are at her reach until you give her a goldfish cracker. Her hips are wobbly, but she will still run and play.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Sparky -

    “Sparky has lived with her family her whole life,” Fusaro said. “She is the neighborhood dog welcoming committee. All the new dogs become her very best friend. She loves to go on long hikes with her human family.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Stella -

    “Stella was adopted from the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA in Virginia,” Fusaro said. “She was abandoned right before the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, when her owner moved and decided to leave her behind. Her new daddy saw her picture on a website and decided he needed to meet her. It was love at first sight.”
    Lori Fusaro / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Sunny -

    Sunny is the senior dog who started it all for Lori Fusaro. Sunny was left at a Los Angeles shelter at age 16 with cancer and infected eyes. When Fusaro saw Sunny’s face in June 2012, she decided she couldn’t let the dog die alone, so she adopted her and cared for her. Sunny thrived for two and a half years in Fusaro's care. “She inspired me to use photography to show how many senior animals need homes,” Fusaro said.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Gabby and Sunny -

    Fusaro’s two dogs are pictured here: Sunny in front, and Gabby, who also is a senior dog. Fusaro rescued Gabby when she was 2 years old. Gabby "loves playing with her doggy friends and has a kitty boyfriend named Enzo,” Fusaro said. “Enzo grooms her every morning and sleeps with her at night.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    of

    Blossom -

    “Blossom was adopted as an older dog,” Fusaro said. “For some reason, no one wanted her. She is such a character! She has such great expressions, she dances for you as she awaits a treat, and she is loving and affectionate. She gives good doggie hugs.”

    To see more of Fusaro's photos and read more stories about happy senior dogs, check out the book "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," written by TODAY.com writer and editor Laura T. Coffey.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
TOP